POLITICS

Time running out to appeal B.C. polygamy ruling

12/22/2011 06:19 EST | Updated 02/21/2012 05:12 EST
VICTORIA - The B.C. government has several options to take last month's B.C. Supreme Court ruling upholding Canada's ban on polygamy to a higher court to give it more weight, even though one appeal deadline expires on Friday.

The Nov. 23 ruling by Justice Robert Bauman was connected to the province's long-running quest to mount legal cases against the leaders of polygamous communities in the southeastern B.C. community of Bountiful.

Vancouver lawyer George Macintosh, who was appointed by the government to argue that Canada's Criminal Code provisions outlawing polygamy are unconstitutional, has indicated he won't appeal.

Macintosh's 30-day deadline to appeal expires Friday.

B.C. Attorney General Shirley Bond issued a statement saying she respects Macintosh's decision not to appeal, but as far as the province goes, the court decision is under review.

"Our legal counsel are continuing to review Chief Justice (Robert) Bauman's comprehensive decision to determine how we will proceed from here," said the statement.

A legal spokesman with the Ministry of the Attorney General said Thursday the B.C. government, because it won the case, does not have the same time restrictions for an appeal as Macintosh.

The B.C. ruling does not apply throughout Canada.

The spokesman, speaking on background, said the province can ask that the case be referred to the B.C. Court of Appeal for another decision, which, if the province won again, gives the law banning polygamy more legal weight.

British Columbia could then take the case to the Supreme Court of Canada, where a decision in its favour upholds the law across Canada.

The federal government has the ability to take the case directly to the Supreme Court of Canada, but Ottawa has yet to address the polygamy ruling.

Many people in Bountiful openly live in plural marriages, and for years there have been reports of teenage girls from Bountiful being sent to the United States to marry older men connected to Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Bauman ruled last month Canada's ban on polygamy infringes on some sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but criminalization of polygamy is justified.

Bauman's ruling is the result of a reference case launched by the B.C. government in 2009 after polygamy charges against Bountiful leaders Winston Blackmore and James Oler were stayed.

The government launched the reference case to determine if anti-polygamy laws would withstand a challenge to Canada's constitutional sections guaranteeing religious freedom.

In a 335-page ruling, Bauman said the polygamy law impairs somewhat the constitutional right of religious freedom, but it is justified by the harms polygamy causes to women, children and society.

Blackmore said in an earlier interview he always believed the polygamy case would end up in the Supreme Court of Canada.

"At the beginning, our best advice that we have heard on both sides of the equation was that it would go to the Supreme Court of Canada," he said in Bountiful last month. "No one ever thought that a single judge would make a decision on the constitutionality of polygamy."

Blackmore said he believed that Macintosh, in his role as amicus — friend of the court — would appeal the ruling.

Blackmore could not be immediately reached for comment on Macintosh's decision not to appeal.